In late August, fires burning in the Amazon caught the
attention of the media, politicians, celebrities and ordinary citizens.
Dire warnings about the imminent collapse of the “lungs of the earth”
and dramatic photographs of flames bursting from the forest canopy
spread across the internet — and with them a fair amount of misleading
information. Some of the most widely shared pictures were from years ago
or places far from Brazil. And while the number of fires is at a
10-year high, the incidence of fire was higher in the early 2000s.
the news inspired calls for action from Western leaders at the Group of
Seven meeting in France and a defensive response from the Brazilian
government, which sees current mobilization to save the rainforest as a
threat to its national sovereignty.
It did not have to play out
like this. While these fires are not without precedent and the earth is
not going to run out of oxygen anytime soon, deforestation in the Amazon
is a significant problem that could both contribute to and be
exacerbated by climate change. But facing this challenge will require
engaging with the people of the region, understanding their situation
and listening to their concerns.
That is precisely what the
Vatican will do this October at the Synod on the Amazon, taking place in
Rome Oct. 6-27. In calling for the synod, Pope Francis seeks to open
“paths of dialogue that will help us get out of the path towards
self-destruction of the current socio-environmental crisis.” Topics
deeply intertwined with the burning of the Amazon — deforestation,
climate change, the rights of indigenous people and the exploitation of
the rainforest for commercial gain — are all on the agenda.
Catholic circles, however, much of the conversation before the gathering
has focused not on the region’s ecological crisis but rather on a
single sentence from the synod’s working document: “Affirming that
celibacy is a gift for the Church, it is requested that, for the most
remote areas of the region, the possibility of priestly ordination for
elderly people is studied.” Critics of the synod see in this discussion a
Trojan horse to bring married priests to the entire Church.
reality, the topic is being taken up in response to the need of
thousands of Catholics in remote parts of Amazon, who often go weeks or
months without seeing a priest or celebrating the Eucharist. It should
be understood in the context of the Amazon’s unique pastoral situation,
not through the ideological lens that frames the celibacy debate in the
United States and Western Europe.
This October gives the Church an
opportunity to hear the cries of the earth and the people of the
Amazon. Concerned citizens of the world would do well to emulate the
synod’s “see, judge, act” approach, “a dynamic process of listening and
discerning,” as they work to protect this richly diverse, life-giving
and fragile gift of creation.
This editorial was originally published by America magazine, a weekly Jesuit publication.